Introduction to Euthanasia in India
Intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering is euthanasia. There are different laws for euthanasia in different countries and by this article, we aim at looking into its legal position in India. Euthanasia could be categorized in many ways. This includes voluntary, non-voluntary, involuntary, active as well as passive euthanasia. Voluntary Euthanasia is conducted with the consent of the patient; non-voluntary euthanasia is when the will of the patient is unavailable. Involuntary euthanasia takes place against the will of the patient. Other categories include passive euthanasia, which is stopping treatment necessary to the conditions of lie while active euthanasia is the use of lethal substances or force to end a life, thus becoming the most controversial of all forms.
“Eu” refers to good and “thantos” means death. The Greek term ‘euthanasia medica’ was used for the first time by Francis Bacon. He further distinguished the word into euthanasia interior (that is preparing the soul for death) and euthanasia exterior (which aimed at ending a life easily and painlessly).
Euthanasia is also known as ‘mercy killing’ and it is generally pleaded for patients who are terminally ill, bedridden and have little to no chances of survival.
House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics defines it as deliberately intervening along with expressly intending to end a life so as to relieve intractable suffering.
Position in India
Since March 2018, only passive euthanasia is legalised in India. In the case of Common Cause (A Regd. Society) v. Union of India and Another, delivering a 538-page judgement, The court held that:
- The right to life which includes the right to live with human dignity also consists of a dignified life till death, which further includes a dignified procedure of death.
- The court observed that in the Gian Kaur case, the constitution bench distinguished between the situation when a physician does stop administering treatment which might prolong a patient’s life and the situation when he decides to administer a lethal drug, even though it is with the intention to ease pain. The latter is not included and is not covered by Article 21.
- Refusing medical treatment or deciding not to take medical treatment, thus deciding to embrace death in a natural way. An adult human is fully entitled to the same.
- Euthanasia necessarily means good death and a positive act is necessitated for the same. Thus, it is also known as assisted suicide.
- The court was of the opinion that not taking a lifesaving treatment by a competent person is not included in euthansia as presumed by many but a decision to withdraw a lifesaving treatment by patient competent to take a decision or with reference to a patient who is not competent to take a decision is included in passive euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is lawful and legally permissible in India.
- Article 21 also includes a patient’s right who is incapable of expressing his view and the same cannot be outside of the fold of the right to life and personal liberty.
- In the cases of incompetent patients, competent medical experts can take the decision applying the “best interests” principle and the same is to be implemented only after the provision of a cooling period so that any aggrieved person can approach the court against the same.
- An individual who executes an advance medical directive thus specifying on the extent of medical intervention he wishes to allow upon his body when he would be incapable of deciding upon the same is a part of the aforesaid right. Such right of execution is not dependent on legislation by the State or any recognition. The same can be exercised by an individual in pursuance of his right of bodily integrity and self-determination.
Thus, we can conclude that the aforementioned guidelines act as milestones in Indian Judicial History and are vital to the subject of euthanasia whenever it comes into the picture.
By Maahi Mayuri
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